Reconciliation and Land Acknowledgements in Grade 3

In this blog, our KCS Grade 3 homeform teachers – Meghan Hurley and Kerrie Robins – talk about the ways in which they and their students are evolving the Grade 3 Social Studies curriculum to better reflect the ongoing dialogue around Indigenous peoples and reconciliation.

Social Studies is a wonderful subject to teach – because it’s all about learning how to explore our shared history and experiences in a thoughtful and meaningful way. In Grade 3, a large part of the Social Studies curriculum is built around the experiences of different communities in Canada between the late 1700s to the mid-1800s.

When we were kids, that mostly meant learning about European pioneers. But over the past number of years, schools have made a real effort to incorporate into the curriculum the experiences of Indigenous communities during this time period. Here at KCS, we’ve been making the same effort for many years. But this year, we decided to begin our Social Studies program by focusing on those Indigenous experiences, in order to help our students better understand the need for an active and engaged approach towards reconciliation.

We began with some introductory events around Indigenous peoples in Canada, during which the students developed their own initial questions and identified areas they wanted to learn more about. This was followed by lessons around the ideas of apologies and reconciliation, out of which came a few key questions. What does it mean to apologize? What does reconciliation mean? How do we make things right when we’ve made a mistake? These open-ended questions led us to one core driving question: Why should our government be apologizing to Indigenous people?

Using techniques we learned during our professional development at the PBLWorks Institute this summer, we helped the students develop a series of questions that grew organically out of our driving question. We then used their questions to inform our planning for the remainder of the unit.

Throughout the unit, we explored this topic from a number of different angles. We talked about the legacy of residential schools and learned about the purpose behind the Orange Shirt Day initiative. We invited a guest speaker – Talitha Tolles from the TASSC (Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council) – to come and speak about her culture and language. She shared stories about her own family’s experience with residential schools, and she worked with the students to build an Indigenous history timeline.

After that, the students took part in a group project where each group studied an Indigenous nation from a historical perspective. We also learned about treaties, what traditional land KCS is on, the Toronto Purchase/Treaty 13 (the treaty that governs the western half of Toronto), and the land acknowledgments that are currently taking place at other local schools.

Obviously, this was a significant amount of new information for our students to process. We gave them time to think about all they had learned, and we began to use this information to answer our driving question: Why should our government be apologizing to Indigenous peoples? Once we had some answers to this question, we asked the students, “What do you want to do?” After much discussion, the Grade 3s decided that they wanted to make a difference by starting a land acknowledgement at KCS.

Both classes sent letters to Mr. Logan and Dr. Mosun asking permission to create a land acknowledgement for KCS. These letters were received with enthusiasm, and they encouraged the students to work with our current artist-in-residence – Lindy Kinoshameg from Wiikwemkoong Unceded First Nation – to develop and write an acknowledgement. This process has begun and will continue to evolve over the next month or so. Our hope is that the students will be ready to present our KCS land acknowledgement during an assembly in January.

For us, the most powerful piece of this journey can be summed up with two of our Habits of Mind, Body and Action – “Lead to Make a Difference” and “Make the World Better”. When we began the year, some of the students felt like this was a problem that couldn’t be solved. As one student said in September, “We can’t do anything, we’re just a bunch of kids.” But now, that same student is saying, “We’re doing one thing, and it’s making a difference!”

We are so proud of this group of students and the ways in which they have opened their minds to new perspectives and taken on the challenge of making the world better. We look forward to sharing their land acknowledgement with the entire school community in the new year!

Meghan Hurley & Kerrie Robins

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